With the words “When youre here, were here,” the actor representing Parley P. Pratt welcomes audiences to the Nauvoo Pageant during the month of July. The Nauvoo Pageant, now in its 10th year, depicts the settling of Nauvoo, Illinois, in the mid-1800s and presents themes of temple building, faith, life and death, family, and community.
Last year, “Truth Will Prevail” opened in the British Isles. This pageant portrays the faith of early reformers, such as William Tyndale, and Latter-day Saint converts in Britain. The British Pageant concludes with ships departing from England for Nauvoo, while the Nauvoo Pageant depicts Latter-day Saints arriving in Zion. To celebrate the Nauvoo Pageants 10th anniversary, both pageants are being performed in Nauvoo from July 8 through August 2.
The early Saints in Nauvoo experienced life and death, joy and sorrow. Many died from malaria, disease, malnutrition, and exposure to the elements. By 1839, Commerce contained several burial sites, including Indian mounds, private lots of pre-Mormon settlers, and a graveyard on Durphy Street. In 1842, the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds opened on Parley Street, and this became the principal cemetery until the Saints left in 1846. (See Meridian Magazine, April 3, 2014, for article about the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds.) Following the Mormon exodus, local residents continued to bury their dead in city and private graveyards. This article describes other burial sites in Nauvoo.
Indian Burial Mounds
Nauvoo appears to have been a destination for the living and the dead for centuries. According to Community of Christ Historic Sites Coordinator Lachlan Mackay, workmen digging a power wiring trench between the Smith Cemetery and Red Brick Store during the 1970s uncovered bones and artifacts, including a cardinal platform pipe from the Hopewell era (ca. 200 BC to 500 AD). This means that the Smith Family Cemetery was most likely built over an ancient graveyard.
Lachlan Mackay referred to Gustavus Hills 1840 map of Nauvoo which revealed ancient tumuli, or burial mounds, including some on Partridge Street below the temple hill. In 1844, Henry Brown quoted John C. Bennetts 1842 description of Nauvoo: “The surface of the ground upon which Nauvoo is built, is very uneven. . . A number of tumuli, or ancient mounds, are found within the limits of the city, proving it to have been a place of some importance with the extinct inhabitants of this Continent” (History of Illinois, 1844, p. 490). Settlers, however, leveled the land for houses and gardens.
Permanent settlement of the area began about 1824 with Captain James White. The first post office opened in 1830 with George Y. Cutler as the postmaster of Venus. After Commerce was laid out, Venus became absorbed within its boundaries.
George Cutler died in 1834 and was buried north of his house (865 Young Street) and east of the present Monument to Women Memorial Garden. Thomas Gregg reported in History of Hancock County (1880) that a stone wall surrounded Cutlers grave. Ida Blum observed that “the stone enclosure surrounding the Cutler grave remained intact until about a half century ago [1920s]” when “wind and exposure to the elements obliterated all traces of the tomb.” Blum identified Lot 5 of Block 70 (the Cutler graveyard) and Lot 5 of Block 104 (Durphy Street cemetery) as private burying grounds for the Venus/Commerce area (Nauvoo, Gateway to the West, 1974, pp.7, 61).
Durphy Street Cemetery
Predating the Latter-day Saints arrival in Commerce, local residents interred their dead in a cemetery on Durphy Street (Highway 96) between White and Hotchkiss streets. They continued to do so until 1847. The Saints used the graveyard until 1842 when the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds opened. Those buried on Durphy Street were then reinterred in the new cemetery.
Edward Partridge, the first LDS bishop, died in 1840 and was buried on Durphy Street. In1843, sexton Oliver Huntington recorded, “The whole family joined together took up and removed from the old to the new burying ground, my mother [Zina Baker Huntington], Bishop Partridge, and Harriet Partridge” (Oliver Huntington Autobiography, BYU-S,.22). Although the location of Partridges grave in the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds is unknown, President James E. Faust dedicated a monument in memory of his ancestor.
Private Burial Plots
Nauvoo residents often buried family members, particularly infants and children, on their private property. Jennetta Richards, wife of Willard Richards, died in 1845 at the age of 27, leaving two young children. Heber John, almost five years old, asked his father, “Pa, will you bury Ma in the garden? If you do I can bear it, if you do not I cannot bear it.” Willard recalled that Jennetta had requested “if she ever died in Nauvoo, she wanted to be buried in her own garden.” So he placed the casket “in the southwest corner of the door yard, at the angle of the garden, about 20 feet from the southwest corner of the house” (Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 3, p.133).
The backyard of Parley P. Pratts house became a graveyard for several Pratt children. Parley and Mary Anns son Nathan died in December of 1843 at the age of five. His sister Susan, who was born on the Maid of Iowa in 1843, died eight months after Nathan. It appears both were laid to rest on their parents property.
Four-year-old Martha Marinda Pratt, daughter of Parleys brother William and his wife Wealthy, died September 15, 1846, on the Iowa side of the river. “I can never leave her in this lonely place,” Wealthy Pratt said. “Perhaps we could take her over to Nauvoo and lay her by the side of our loved ones.” William Pratt crossed the river to witness the city “still as death” from the battle that forced the last Saints to leave.
He and three other brethren landed in a secluded spot where a team waited to take them to the burial site. “The little grave was soon ready, and the little pilgrim was laid to rest.” This burial “made six graves in all, as Brother Orson Pratt had lost an infant daughter” a year earlier (Mary Winters, Autobiography, LDS Archives, p. 19).
On September 12, 1846, Captain William Anderson and his 15-year-old son Augustus were killed during the battle of Nauvoo. David Norris also lost his life in this battle. Captain Anderson “was shot in the breast by a musket ball. He lived fifteen minutes, all the time encouraging his men,” and Augustus “was killed by a cannon ball” (Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences Latter-day Saints, 1888, p. 178).
Joseph Smith III wrote that Augustus Anderson died “at the blacksmith shop on the east side of town, not far from Beachs tavern.” Joseph remembered his schoolmate “at a school entertainment.” He “came into the room disguised as an old man and delivered a touching piece which we used to read in the old English Reader” (Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III). Augustus, his father, and David Norris were laid in unmarked graves as their grieving families left Nauvoo.
Smith Family Cemetery
The Joseph Smith Homestead became a graveyard for the Smith family, including Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith and their sons Don Carlos, Hyrum, Joseph, and Samuel. Those who died before 1846 were buried elsewhere in Nauvoo and later moved to the Smith Family Cemetery. When Don Carlos Smith and Joseph and Emmas baby Don Carlos died in 1841, their bodies were buried near the temple and later reinterred on the Smith property. Joseph, Emma, and Hyrums bodies were laid to rest on the Homestead property in 1928 (Lachlan Mackay, Mormon Historical Studies, Fall 2002, pp. 240-252).
Hibbard Burial Ground
Davidson Hibbard was born in Vermont, married Sarah Tilton in 1816, and moved his family to Illinois in 1824. After settling in Nauvoo, Davidson helped build a stone house for Nauvoos first permanent white settler Captain James White. Davidsons daughter married Captain Whites son. Davidson and Sarah lived on their farm just below Commerce/Nauvoo until Davidson died in the 1850s. His wife lived until 1881. Davidson and other family members were buried in a graveyard near what is now the Community of Christ Camp Nauvoo Lodge.
William and Polly Dundy (Dundey) were married in Pennsylvania in 1835. They moved to Nauvoo and purchased a tract of land that included Captain James Whites house and a ferry landing. The Dundy family owned and operated a ferry between Nauvoo and Montrose. Their son Warren assisted in the family business as a youngster and continued in the business as an adult.
The Dundy family built a graveyard just north of Captain Whites house. Among those buried in this cemetery were William in 1873, his wife Polly in 1860, their 28-year-old son Willis in 1859, and Warren in 1889. The property was damaged when the Mississippi River rose 30 feet after the Keokuk dam was built in 1913. This private cemetery is often overgrown with weeds, and the tombstones reflect wear from burrowing animals, flooding, and vandals. Several years ago, an Eagle Scout project repaired this burial ground.
Nauvoo Cemetery No. 1
After the Mormon exodus, the citys business district relocated on the bluff. In 1848, a new cemetery opened a mile east on Mulholland Street after a gravel road was built through town. The remains, monuments, and markers from Durphy Street were then moved to Nauvoo Cemetery No. 1 (Ida Blum, Nauvoo, An American Heritage, 1969, 52).
Captain James White served as a keel boat pilot on the Des Moines Rapids, and he traded with the Sac and Fox Indians at the head of the rapids. In 1824, he purchased land in present-day Nauvoo and, in 1827, built a stone house where Parley Street meets the Mississippi River. The first court in Hancock County was held in this house. In1834, the year the town of Commerce was plotted and named, James Whites wife Lurancy died. He passed away a year and a half later. Both were buried on Durphy Street until Cemetery No. 1 opened and their bodies were moved to this cemetery. Captain Whites tombstone contains this inscription: “Sacred to the memory of James White, who departed this life June 17, 1836, aged 54 years.”
Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Icarians, Swiss, German, Irish, and Scotch were buried in Cemetery No.
1, along with veterans of five wars. Burials became less frequent after 1890, and the grounds deteriorated until the city began maintaining the property in the mid-20th century. The people of Nauvoo placed a bronze plaque at the cemeterys entrance in 1954, and in 2007, Patrick Walton created an index of tombstones in this cemetery as an Eagle Project.
Nauvoo Cemetery No. 2 and Saints Peter and Paul
By 1920, the city had begun maintaining a larger graveyard east of the first cemetery. Today, most community burials take place in Cemetery No. 2. Another cemetery, Saints Peter and Paul, is located east of the old city cemetery and is a burial place for those of the Catholic faith.
Julia Murdock Smith is buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery. She was born in Ohio in 1831 to John and Julia Murdock. Her mother died from complications after giving birth to Julia and her twin brother Joseph. Within hours after Mrs. Murdocks death, Emma Smith bore twins who died. So the Prophet and his wife adopted Julia and Joseph. When the Saints moved to Missouri and Nauvoo, Julia experienced trials and tragedies as a child. At the age of 17, she married Elisha Dixon and at a young age became a widow. Julia married John Middleton, a devout Catholic, and joined the Catholic Church. She returned to Nauvoo after an unhappy marriage and lived with her mother until Emma died in 1879. By then, Julia was suffering from breast cancer. Her friends James and Semantha Moffitt lived nearby, and they cared for her until she died in 1880 at the age of 49.
James and Semantha Moffitt were buried in the Catholic cemetery in 1911 and 1926. James parents moved to the Nauvoo area in 1828, and James was born in Sonora Township in 1831, the same year as Julia Smith. He watched the Mormons build the city and temple and at the age of 15 witnessed them driven out. James moved away from Nauvoo in 1852, but soon returned and married Semantha Newton in 1855. Semanthas family had come to Nauvoo in 1847 when she was 10 years old (Biographical Review of Hancock County, Illinois, 1907, pp. 265-268). After Julia moved home, it appears she renewed her friendship with the Moffitts, as they cared for her until she died.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The place where a man is buried is sacred to me.” Each grave has a story to tell of a persons life and the time and place in which he or she lived. Visits to cemeteries offer reflection on the meaning of life, the inevitability of death, and the promise of resurrection. LDS visitors to Nauvoo feel the Spirit in the historic homes and the holy temple. Sometimes they search for ancestors in the cemetery on Parley Street and contemplate their lives. But other burial sites in Nauvoo have voices, too. Perhaps their voices will tell us why they came to Nauvoo and what they learned about life and death, joy and sorrow, faith, family, and community. They might whisper, “When youre here, were herebecause we are in you–for we are all Heavenly Fathers children.”
Rosemary Palmer is Nauvoo, Illinois, correspondent for Meridian Magazine.